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Ammoon 21″ Electric Ukulele

While I was at TMEA in February, I had the chance to see Kris Gilbert’s J&D Electric Ukulele, and this created a need (in my mind) to buy an electric ukulele. I actually have a few ukuleles with a pickup installed, but what I was interested in was a ukulele that would be very, very quiet. A large percentage of my ukulele play along work is done at night when the rest of my family is asleep. They have frequently gone to bed (or attempted to do so) while I played ukulele, working out the details of play along videos. As an added benefit, many electric ukuleles have a way to patch audio in from another device (e.g. an iPad) and out (to headphones with a 1/8″/3.5mm jack or a 1/4″ 6.35mm jack).

When I came home from TMEA, I learned that the J&D electric ukulele was selling for $199, and the similar (i.e. identical) Mahalo EUK-200 was $216. I didn’t want to spend that much for something that might work the way I needed it to, so I began to look for cheaper options to try before committing more money. I came across the Ammoon electric ukulele in a few different locations–wish.com, Amazon, and eBay. It was selling for $60-$80, but I found an eBay listing for an instrument that looked exactly the same for $49.95, and I bought it.

The ukulele arrived from China about three weeks later–spending most of that time stuck in customs in Chicago. When I unboxed the instrument, it was indeed an Ammoon electric ukulele, 21″ long. The scale length is 13.5″, making it a soprano…all to be expected. The outward box definitely sustained damage on the trip, but the instrument was fine. The ukulele came with a light storage case, extra strings (unlabeled but likely Aquila replicas) and a tuner. No battery was included, either for the ukulele (9V) or for the tuner (2032).

The only ukulele available at the $49.99 price point was painted red, so that is what I ordered. I am actually quite pleased with the quality of the paint job on what is listed as solid Okoume wood. The matte finish looks good (far better than what I imagined) and the Ammoon logo is screened on the top in a non-overwhelming way. Overall, I like the looks of the instrument. The design is similar to my Ashbury Lonely Traveler, as well as my Jamstik 7!

The electric ukulele has sealed chrome generic tuners that are fine…no sloppiness or problems with the tuners at all. There are twelve frets on the fretboard with front markers on the 5th, 7th, and 10th frets, but there are no side dots on the ukulele. The fretboard and tie-on bridge appear to be made of rosewood (old stock?) and the saddle is made of plastic. The bridge is very small…something you don’t see very often on a ukulele. I think this may be due to the ability for the bridge to be securely screwed into the solid wood instrument, whereas traditional ukuleles have very thin wood and need to distribute the glue on a bridge (even when screws are used). The nut is 34.8mm wide (35mm). The first and fourth strings are spaced 28.2mm apart at the first fret, with 7.95mm between each string. All of these measurements are common for a Chinese-made soprano ukulele (and that isn’t a bad thing…it just “is.”).

One of the biggest problems you will face with this ukulele is the original set-up. Action at the first fret was originally greater than 1.0mm, and action at the 12th fret was greater than 4.0mm. I’m not afraid to try to solve these problems on my own, and was able to get the string action to a level that I am comfortable with–but many players who would be enticed by this instrument may not have set-up skills, and would need to bring it to a luthier to set-up, resulting in another $50 or more of labor charges. That might make this a deal breaker for some players, and trust me, you don’t want to play it in its original condition.

My purpose for this ukulele is centered around the play along videos that I create. I plugged audio into the ukulele, and then headphones into the ukulele…and was greeted by a lot of background hiss. Quite frankly, that was disappointing. Added to that, the pick-up seems to be unbalanced, resulting in a lot of sound from strings 2 and 3 (E and C) and very little sound from strings 1 and 4 (A and G). I have pulled the pick-up assembly apart, and now get sound on strings 1, 2, and 3. It is a flat piezo pickup that was probably made for guitar, and the sensor crystals are arranged in “bumps” that should sit under a guitar string. The problem is that ukulele spacing is not the same as guitar spacing. I have a different flat piezo pickup coming later this week ($6 shipped on Amazon) and will also

Saying that, when the instrument is plugged into the 1/4″/3.65mm jack, there is no hiss, and the patched audio goes through that connection, too. If the balance of the pick-up can be adjusted, all will be good with the world. I can deal with the hiss through the headphone jack.

I experienced a buzz on the E string (2nd string), and tried everything to determine what was causing it–tightening every screw, making sure the string wasn’t touching any frets, and even opening the internal cavities for the electronics to make sure that things weren’t buzzing (and even putting some foam in there to stop vibrations). As I was making videos today, I no longer heard the buzz. I don’t know where it went…but when I change strings (sooner than later), I’m wondering if that may also address the issue.

There are two dials to adjust volume and tone located on the lower left side of the instrument. They work well enough, and the range of tone is dark to bright. There is a “middle” point you can feel with the tone dial, which is where I am leaving mine. These face a right handed player. The input (top) and headphone (lower) jacks are on the lower right hand side of the instrument. I worry about these jacks because they are right were I want to set the ukulele as I am playing it on a couch, putting pressure on those connectors. If you have a 1/8″/3.5mm cable that has 90º connectors, and headphones that have a 90º connector, it might be a good idea to use those instead.

The ukulele does serve its purpose–in my case at least. Playing the ukulele as loud as I could, I generated 75.0 dB of volume. I then played my loudest ukulele, my KoAloha Opio Sapele Tenor, and registered 92.1 dB of volume. While 75 to 92 doesn’t seem like much difference, remember that a decible (dB) is a power ratio index, not a linear index. A 20 db difference results in a sound ten times louder…meaning that the difference in volume is quite extreme. If you play the Ammoon Electric Ukulele at a normal volume level in your house in another room while everyone is sleeping–you’re probably not going to wake anyone up (unless you start singing).

EleUke recently announced new versions of its Peanut ukuleles in an Indiegogo campaign, after I had bought the Ammoon electric ukulele. The new models have some changes in their design and (in the case of electric models) technology.. I decided to sponsor the crowdfunding campaign with an investment in the concert electric, which also has a bluetooth receiver (so you can send audio from a device, like an iPad or iPhone). The Concert Electric Peanut is supposed to ship in May, so I will review that instrument when it arrives. If the coming Concert Electric Peanut works out, EleUke sells upgrade kits for their older models, and I might buy one of those kits to put into the Ammoon.

In conclusion, would I recommend this instrument? The answer is: probably not. Even if you bought a model that had equal distribution of the pickup, you still would need to set up the instrument yourself or have a luthier set it up for you. Additionally, the hiss through the headphone jack as well as the untraceable (and suddenly missing) vibration on the 2nd String make me hesitant to recommend the instrument. I am impressed by the fit and finish of the instrument, but considering that the electronic aspect of the instrument is the selling point, I’d advise you to look elsewhere for a solution. Again, that is just my opinion, and you are certainly welcome to give the instrument a try, as I did. If you buy from Amazon (at a higher cost and with faster shipping), you can return an item. I don’t bother with returns when buying from eBay.

One final note: A replacement ukulele saddle, purchased from Amazon for $6.00, solved the largest problem of the instrument, and allowed vibration from all four strings to reach the electronics. That’s an extra $6.00 that you shouldn’t have to spend–and the hiss from the headphone jack is still there. So while this unit will absolutely work for what I am using it for (I used it last night to create four play along versions of the song “Wavin’ Flag”), I can’t recommend this unit for others. I wish I could!

Positives:

  • Really nice build quality–paint job is very nice with a good finish
  • Affordable
  • Closed generic tuners work well, no loose play in the tuners.
  • Comes with some accessories (light bag, extra strings, tuner)

Negatives:

  • Hiss from audio jack
  • Batteries not included (for ukulele or tuner)
  • Pickup is not sensing the vibrations evenly
  • Input and Headphone jacks are in a odd location for normal use
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